Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Englewood Cliffs school board settles OPMA suit

On March 12, 2012, I filed an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit against the Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) Board of Education.  The lawsuit is on-line here. After I filed a motion for summary judgment (my brief is on-line here), the Board indicated that it wanted to settle the case.

On June 22, 2012, I entered into a settlement agreement under which the school board agreed to improve its Open Public Meetings Act compliance and reimburse me $250 for my filing fees and miscellaneous costs.  The Consent Judgment, which specifies the terms of compliance, is on-line here.

The Board was represented by Fogarty & Hara, which represents several school districts in the Bergen County area, including Cliffside Park, Secaucus and Haledon.  If you reside in a school district represented by the Fogarty & Hara firm, you may wish to compare your board's OPMA compliance to that required under the Consent Judgment.  If your board is out of compliance in a manner similar to that remedied by the Consent Judgment, it should not be too difficult to convince the board to voluntarily adopt the standard set forth in the Consent Judgment, given that your board's own lawyer had already approved of and recommended that standard.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Record: Englewood Cliffs man acquitted on indecent exposure charges says he'll pursue lawsuit

Englewood Cliffs man acquitted on indecent exposure charges says he'll pursue lawsuit

The Record

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — A 55-year-old man who filed notice he planned to sue the borough over his arrest on indecent exposure charges a year ago said he’ll go through with the threatened defamation lawsuit now that he’s been acquitted by a jury.
Michael Telzer, an Englewood Cliffs resident, said he never should have been arrested based on the accuser’s account, and claimed he was a victim of the police chief’s desire to hire more officers by showing the borough had a crime problem.
“You had a town divided over hiring more police,” he said. “You had a chief campaigning, ‘We need more police. We need more police.’ It was devastating.”
Police Chief Michael Cioffi declined to comment on Telzer’s claim, citing the possibility of litigation. But his eyes widened and he shook his head when told about Telzer’s allegations.
“I wish I could say something,” he said.
Mayor Joseph Parisi said the council did hire more police officers to reduce overtime costs and to enhance the “overall protection” of the borough, not because of any incident.
Telzer was charged July 14, 2011, with lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child after a mother called 911 around 8 p.m. to report a man appeared to be exposing himself on the Witte Field walking path on Johnson Avenue.
Police issued a news release the next day, saying the woman was with her 6-year-old and 9-year-old daughters when she saw Telzer exposing himself. The release also stated that Police Officers Roland Waldt and Gerard McDermott responded to the call and Waldt found Telzer with his “pants/shorts unbuttoned, belt buckle and zipper opened.” It also states that the accuser positively identified him.
Telzer fought the charges, saying the woman’s statement shows she was not certain what she saw. He also said the woman never mentioned her children in the original statements and there were no other witnesses.
Telzer filed notice of intent to sue in October. In that notice, Telzer said he would seek $2.8 million from Police Chief Michael Cioffi and the borough and $1.8 million from each of the arresting officers for damages to his reputation.
The notice also accused police of false arrest, false imprisonment, witness and evidence tampering and character assassination “that amounts to defamation including but not limited to slander and possibly libel.”
He accused the police chief of making a “horribly abusive statement” to an online publication that police collected a paper towel found in a waste basket at the park for DNA testing. The tests came back negative for Telzer’s DNA.
The case went to trial on July 11 in Bergen County Court. On Friday, the jury found Telzer not guilty of all charges.
His lawyer, Robert Penangelo, said among the evidence that helped acquit Telzer was audio from a police car camera in which his client told officers, “I hope there are cameras in the park.” He also said Telzer passed a lie-detector test and that prosecutors had no other corroboration besides the woman’s statements.
Telzer said the allegations have made his life a living hell, but he was confident he would be exonerated.
“I was not going to let anyone say these things about me and get away with it,” he said. “I took a moral position.”

The Record: Englewood Cliffs' council OKs $13.48M budget

Englewood Cliffs' council OKs $13.48M budget

The Record

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS – Residents will be paying about $20 more a month in property taxes to fund services and replenish the borough’s depleted savings account under a 2012 spending plan adopted this week.
The Borough Council on Wednesday approved by a 5-1 vote a $13.48 million budget, which carries a 6 percent property tax hike.
Under the budget, a home assessed at the borough average of $1.26 million would pay $248 more in municipal taxes this year.
The spending plan is slightly less than last year’s $13.6 million budget, but the borough depleted its $955,000 surplus, leaving nothing to offset taxes this year, auditor Steven Wielkotz said.
Councilwoman Gloria Oh, a Democrat, blamed last year’s Republican-controlled council for overestimating revenue and underestimating expenses while freezing taxes, causing the surplus to evaporate.
“I’m confident the budget this year will put us back where we belong,” she said.
Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow, the sole Republican on the Democratic-controlled board, defended the prior year’s spending plan as one that was conscious of older homeowners on fixed incomes.
“We believe that we should not tax residents to raise surplus, taking monies from our residents who could make better use of their monies than us just letting it sit in a bank,” she said.
McMorrow voted against the 2012 budget, saying that it also underestimated spending. She blamed Democrats on prior councils for waiting until 2008, when real estate prices were high, to re-evaluate property values, leading home and business owners to challenge them now that values have dropped sharply.
“Stop blaming the tax increase on everyone else,” she said.
Council President Joseph Favaro said the county forced the borough to re-evaluate property in 2008, near the height of the housing market. As property values fell, property owners began challenging their assessments – and winning.
“The bottom fell out and we were left holding the bag,” he said. “This is a fair budget with what we had to work with.”
Chief Financial Officer Joseph Iannaconi Jr. said the 2012 spending plan is a “bare-bones budget” that maintains services, but has no cushion for emergencies. Englewood Cliffs would have to borrow money if it is hit with a large unanticipated expense.
The depleted surplus, and high number of tax appeals caused Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade the borough’s credit rating from the second-highest rating of Aa1 to the third-highest rating of Aa2. The downgrade means the borough will have to pay slightly more interest on roughly $16 million it has borrowed over the years for municipal projects.
Mayor Joseph Parisi said the borough was conservative in estimating revenue and aggressive on cutting spending wherever possible.
“No one likes tax increases but there are increases in our expenses.”
Among the increases is an extra $80,000 in police officers’ base pay because 14 were promoted after an arbitration ruling. The department has 26 officers, including 10 patrolmen.